Train Yourself for Godliness
“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:6-8, ESV)
As Americans, we spend lots of money, time and energy trying to either get fit or stay fit. While being or getting physically fit is important and may even be God-glorifying (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), the apostle Paul reminds us that it is only of limited value. Training for spiritual fitness, however, is of eternal value (1 Timothy 4:8). Therefore, argues Paul, we are to train ourselves for godliness because it is of value for this life and the life to come. But what does it mean to train for godliness? Let’s follow Paul’s argument.
Note the command and Paul’s argument. Stated negatively, Paul warns against having anything to do with irreverent (godless) babble and silly myths. Positively, Paul commands that we train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). To train for godliness, then, seems to be the opposite of giving oneself over to the false knowledge that comes from false teaching. It is giving oneself over to “the words of the faith” (i.e., the gospel), and the good doctrine that flows out of that gospel (1 Timothy 4:6). In other words, to train for godliness is to train oneself in the true knowledge of God that comes from giving oneself over to God’s Word.
At this point some may argue that such training sounds and smells like legalism. But training for godliness is not legalism because this true knowledge of God begins as a gift of grace at salvation, and this true knowledge of God is a gift of grace for sanctification (2 Peter 1:3-4). Having received this knowledge of God and His saving power, we must continue to grow in this knowledge – this is what it means to train in godliness. It is only legalistic if you believe yourself to be gaining God’s favor by your actions. But if we receive God’s gracious Word and take it in by faith, then we are seeking to grow in our knowledge of God through Christ by His revelation to us. But you may still wonder how to go about such training?
To be sure, the Lord grants us many different means of grace (ordinances, one another, gathering as a church, etc.), but here I want to emphasize the foundational means of grace for our sanctification: God’s Word illuminated by God’s Spirit. Donald Whitney in his book The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life calls this Bible intake. God has mercifully not left us in the dark to figure things out. Our Lord Jesus promised to be with us by His Spirit, and the Holy Spirit guided certain men to record the Word of God about Christ. That’s what the Bible is: God’s Word about Jesus. If we are to know God, that is, understand who He is (character, attributes) and His ways, then we must take up the gracious gift of God’s Word and read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, hear it read and preached, and even sing it. If we are to understand the Bible itself, we must read it because earlier passages of Scripture shed light on later passages of Scripture and vice versa.
To train in godliness, then, is to train diligently in the knowledge of God in Christ by giving yourself over to the gospel and the doctrines that flow from the gospel – that’s Bible intake (Hos. 4:6)! So, establish a time and a place, then find a plan and begin by faith. It is hard work; after all, Paul calls it training. Taking the Bible in and hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, singing it is merely hearing God and getting to know Him in the manner in which He has graciously revealed Himself to us. Let us train together and grow in spiritual fitness!